*One of the most unpredictable NFL seasons in years is no closer to providing a clear favorite after another extraordinary round of playoffs saw the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons both eliminated.
One week after last season’s two Super Bowl finalists bowed out of contention, the number one seeded teams from each of the conferences were knocked out by the two lowest-ranked wild cards in the playoffs.
The Patriots, the popular pick to win the Super Bowl after finishing as the top team in the AFC, were beaten 28-21 at home by the New York Jets, while the Falcons, the top seed in the NFC, were thrashed 48-21 at home by the Green Bay Packers.
The Chicago Bears and the Pittsburgh Steelers, both seeded second, will now host next weekend’s conference championships with the two winners advancing to meet in the Super Bowl at Dallas on February 6.
Chicago will face the Packers after beating the Seattle Seahawks 35-24 while the Steelers tackle the high-flying Jets after overcoming the Baltimore Ravens 31-24.
The Bears and Steelers were both impressive in their wins but have their work cut out after a playoff series where the home-field advantage has counted for little.
The Patriots had not lost a home game all season and were overwhelming favorites to extend their winning streak against the Jets after beating them 45-3 last month.
But they were outplayed by a team that only snuck into the divisional playoffs after a last-gasp 17-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts last weekend.
The Jets, inspired by their trash-talking coach Rex Ryan, won the major battles on both offence and defense. They succeeded in shutting down New England quarterback Tom Brady, sacking him five times, while scoring four touchdowns of their own.
“I knew if we applied ourselves and played the way we were capable of playing, we would win,” Ryan said.